22 November, 2021
28 February, 2023
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Packed, passionate fans in historic home game offsets disappointment for Syria

DAMASCUS (Syria) - Even as Syria and Kazakhstan were still only warming up for their FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Asian Qualifiers game, the fans at Al Fayhaa Stadium were already rowdy and loud.

As tip-off time approached closer, the stands were dyed red as the die-hard Syria supporters grouped together in preparation. The atmosphere ahead of the game was already electric and once the two teams jumped into action, the place went wild.

Each basket for Syria was followed by an explosion of cheers. Each basket for Kazakhstan resulted in a raise in volume in an attempt to encourage their beloved home team.

"I think Syria basketball right now is taking huge strides forward and hosting this game is a great start."

There was barely a silence in between possessions as the drums and chants resonated with the beat of the game. Even as the final buzzer approached with Syria still behind on their way to defeat, the fans still cheered on. It's been so long since they've been able to root for their national team on their home court and everyone - even those who might have been watching the game through livestreams thousands of miles away - could feel the passion oozing out in Damascus.

The fan's love of the game and love for the team was so intense that even the visitors could help but acknowledge.

"They're a tough team, they are good players. Here is a great basketball atmosphere," said Kazakhstan guard Rustam Murzagaliyev.

"Everything was perfect here," said Kazakhstan head coach, Darko Russo.

"The atmosphere was real basketball. I like to play in front of a lot of fans. It was very loud. I like that. That is basketball and so it was good."

However, because of all of the effort the fans had put in supporting their team for this monumental home game, it only hurt those on the court much more when they couldn't deliver the win.

"Disappointment," was the first word head coach Joe Salerno uttered in the post-game press conference.

Salerno has been through the highs and the lows with this Syria national team for the past months. After seeing how passionate everyone was to celebrate their Asia Cup Qualifiers win over Iran and Asia Cup Qualification, Salerno knew how much a win would have meant in this game.

"It's very disappointing for us and, I know, [also for] the people of Syria, our players, our fans, and the staff."

Syria had fought valiantly in their second game of the window, both of which were close enough to have gone either way with a swing of a few plays. After losing their first game on the road in Kazakhstan, there is no doubt the players were fired up for the opportunity to exact revenge in front of their friends, family, and fans.

The situation and complications in the country in the past years meant that it was unable to host games like this for the national team and that left the fans hungry. Their "home games" in the World Cup 2019 Qualifiers had to be played in Lebanon and the COVID-19 situation meant that they didn't have this opportunity during the Asia Cup Qualifiers either.

All of that lead to this game here, the first true home game for Syria in so long, and the fans made sure to show how much it meant to them.

"It was really a pleasure to play in front of our fans for the first time in 20 years," said Anthouny Bakar.

The fans showed up with flags and scarves on hand along with a multiple gigantic sheets of artwork draped along the sides of the court.

Again, that intense level of passions is why this loss hurt so much for Syria despite it still being very early in the World Cup qualification process.

"It's really frustrating that we lost the game," added Bakar. "It's really bad to lose in front of our fans. The first game must be a win, but this is sports: you can win or lose."

That's what important for Syria - from players to fans - to realize. This is the reality of sports. You win some, you lose some. The fact that they lost this game here shouldn't - and doesn't - affect how important it was to play this game right here in Syria.

This was the opportunity to put on display what Syria basketball is all about. Whether it was to show how much they've improved over the years or how passionate the fanbase can be despite the situations in the country they've had to overcome, having the chance to showcase that at a competition of this level was just as important.

This particular game might have ended in a loss on the scoreboard, but it could also be counted as a "win" for basketball in Syria for merely just playing here in Damascus.

Additionally, everyone can be sure that there's more in store in the future.

"I think people are very excited about basketball in Syria and that's why I love being a part of this national team," said Salerno. "I think Syria basketball right now is taking huge strides forward and hosting this game is a great start."

"I think the excitement is so high, they expect results right away and I think our players they want those results right now but we're a long way away from it. We just have to continue to work in these international games, continue to compete in them, and we're going to slowly but surely get better."

If anything, patience is what the Syria basketball fans should have plenty in store. They've been patient enough over the years for the opportunity to root for their Qasioun Eagles on their home-court. They can wait a bit longer to watch the team spread their wings and fly as one of the best teams in Asia.

When the time comes for that next home game that ends in victory, you can be certain that the stands will be packed and that there will be pandemonium.